Have California’s justice reforms gone too far?
California has been at the forefront of efforts to reduce mass incarceration, as courts have forced the state to lower the population of overcrowded prisons. Crime rates are at historic lows, yet some crimes like theft have ticked up, giving new ammunition to the powerful forces lining up to roll back some changes and possibly return California to its get-tough-on-crime days, the New York Times reports.
Police unions have put up hundreds of thousands of dollars to support a ballot measure to expand the category of crimes that can be charged as felonies. The grocery chain Albertsons contributed, blaming the changes for a rise in shoplifting. Big bail companies have raised $3 million to overturn a law that ends the cash bail system, which critics say unfairly targets the poor.
Violent crime rose in California in 2012 and between 2015 and 2017, allowing opponents of the laws to cite increases, even as scholars say arguments about criminal justice policies should not be based on short-term fluctuations.
Criminologists Bradley Bartos and Charis Kubrin of the University of California at Irvine found no links between Proposition 47 — a 2014 ballot measure that reduced some drug crimes and thefts to misdemeanors — and violent crime.
“Prop 47 has nothing to do with violent crime,” Kubrin says. The Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys attacked the study, saying that because crime rose after Proposition 47 was enacted, the measure had “arguably failed.”
Links between criminal justice policies and crime rates have long been tenuous.
While pointing to short-term increases in some crimes, law enforcement personnel and victims’ rights advocates have seized on highly publicized crimes as evidence that California’s policies are too lenient.
The opponents may still find themselves in an uphill battle against the prevailing narrative which portrays California’s reforms as an example for the rest of the country.